- 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two, injured one in the US state of Wisconsin during protests after the police shot an unarmed black man
- Racial injustice has come to the forefront of conversation since the demonstrations over George Floyd began in May
Prosecutors on Thursday charged a 17-year-old from the US state of Illinois in the fatal shooting of two protesters and the wounding of a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a neighbouring US state, during a night of unrest following the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Kyle Rittenhouse faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide, one count of first-degree reckless homicide, one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment. He would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, the most serious crime in Wisconsin.
The shootings late Tuesday — largely caught on cellphone video and posted online — and the shooting by police Sunday of Blake, a 29-year-old Black father of six who was left paralyzed from the waist down, made Kenosha the latest focal point in the fight against racial injustice that has gripped the country since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
The two men killed were named Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26.
A third man was injured. Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, is recovering after surgery, said Bethany Crevensten, another activist. She said Grosskreutz was volunteering as a medic during the protests when he was shot and called him “a hero.”
Rosenbaum was shot and killed first, after following Rittenhouse into a used car lot, where he threw a plastic bag at the gunman and attempted to take the weapon from him, according to a criminal complaint released by prosecutors Thursday.
Rittenouse then ran down the street and was chased by several people shouting that he just shot someone before he tripped and fell, according to the complaint and cellphone footage. Huber, who was carrying a skateboard, was shot in the chest after apparently trying to take the gun from Rittenhouse, the complaint said.
Demonstrators protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake march through a neighborhood in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Photo: AFP
Grosskreutz, who appeared to be holding a gun, then was shot in the left arm after approaching Rittenhouse, the complaint said.
Rittenhouse’s attorney, Lin Wood, said the teenager was acting in self-defense.
“From my standpoint, it’s important that the message be clear to other Americans who are attacked that there will be legal resources available in the event false charges are brought against them,” he said. “Americans should never be deterred from exercising their right of self-defense.”
Kenosha police faced questions about their interactions with the gunman on Tuesday night. According to witness accounts and video footage, police apparently let the gunman walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air, as members of the crowd yelled for him to be arrested because he had shot people.
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth explained that the gunman likely slipped away because the scene was chaotic, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running — conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.
Video taken before the shooting shows police tossing bottled water from an armored vehicle and thanking civilians armed with long guns walking the streets. One of them appears to be the gunman.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes on Thursday decried how Rittenhouse, whom he described as a vigilante accountable to nobody, could walk away while police talked about finding a knife inside Blake’s vehicle after he was shot in the back.
He said the fact that Rittenhouse and others came to Kenosha to take matters into their own hands “was completely horrifying.”
Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, about 24 kilometres from Kenosha, was taken into custody Wednesday in Illinois. He was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday on his transfer to Wisconsin. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
State authorities have identified the officer who shot Blake as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department.
Authorities said Sheskey was among officers who responded to a domestic dispute, though they have not said whether Blake was part of the dispute. Sheskey shot Blake while holding onto his shirt after officers unsuccessfully used a Taser on him, the Wisconsin Justice Department said. State agents later recovered a knife from the floor on the driver’s side of the vehicle, the department said. State authorities did not say Blake threatened anyone with a knife.
Ben Crump, the lawyer for Blake’s family, said Tuesday that it would “take a miracle” for Blake to walk again. He called for the arrest of Sheskey and for the others involved to lose their jobs. State officials have announced no charges.